“What do you think?” the kid said.
“You’re getting better. You’re learning the language now,” the old lady said.
“Yeah?” said the kid.
“Well, you know, photography is like learning a foreign language, right? When you first learn a language, you communicate with words. You learn words, and the words contain the meaning you want to give someone else,” the old lady said. “And in photography, the words are individual images . You know: individual things, like dogs, or clouds, or flowers.”
“Yeah.” said the kid.
“That’s right,” said the old lady, “and in the beginning, you try to find words for the things you want to talk about. The word is like the vehicle you use to move the meaning over to the other person. People learning a new language can find great words, lovely words, to get their meaning across. The problem is that individual words can only carry so much meaning and when you first learn the language you have a tendency to try to overload words with meaning. Like when you say, ‘wow, that is a hugely, tremendously, awesome, flower.’ The big heavy words don’t get the huge, tremendous beauty of the flower across. ”
“What if is is that kind of flower?” the kid asked.
“Then you get it clear in your head how and why it’s tremendously awesome and you create phrases or sentences that grasp the meaning. That’s what it means to learn the language. Sentences and phrases can carry more meaning than individual words. ‘The Orchid caught the light coming in through the window, turned it an incandescent purple. The molten color flowed over the lip of the vase.’ Like that.”
“How do you make sentences in a photograph?” the kid said.
“In photography, individual images of things are like words,” the old lady said, “and when you organize them into a composition where several images strengthen or enhance each other, you have a visual sentence. Instead of just shooting the orchid, you move around until the light illuminates the petals, and the leaves of the plants around it create a kind of frame.”
“Yeah?” the kid said.
“Yeah,” the old lady said.